"So how long are you leaving for?" he asked, not looking up from his display. At least he had stopped typing.
"I don't know. A month, maybe. Maybe two. It's a short mission this time."
"Two months is a long time," he replied, pushing the display to the side and finally making eye contact with me. "Your whole life is going into the service. It's going to kill you, one way or another. It's a stupid war."
The invitation for an argument, presented. But he was young, that's what kids do. He didn't understand why I signed up in the first place, he wouldn't understand what I fought for. He didn't want to understand, and his opinions kept him from listening. I avoided the subject.
"I see your scores are high enough this semester to earn you scholarship credits. Have you started looking at universities yet? I was kind of hoping you'd send an application in to Flight School." I hated myself for sounding like our parents would have sounded, if they'd been around. It wasn't so long ago that I was his age, when last thing that I wanted to do was think about academia. Summer was right around the corner. I pushed for answers to questions that he wanted to avoid as well, though. I was spiteful. I knew how to play the game.
"School's easy, no worries. As for Flight School," he paused, considering something, then thought better of saying it. "I'm going out tonight, so I probably won't see you before you fly." He paused, waiting for me to disapprove, I guess, but I didn't. "Don't get killed," he added.
I sighed. "Haven't yet," I said, wondering if this would be the time that something went wrong. Some pilots were like that, all luck, all victory, never taking a hit, and then one day, out of nowhere, the Big Black, where a systems malfunction would send them astray, lost in the abyss. I knew a few of them. We had a name for them - we called them the Lost Kids. Quite a few stories regularly circulated about their fates, about what became of them once the Big Black got them, but I didn't buy any of it. Nobody could confirm them, though, because the Lost Kids never came back. Ghost stories, the lot. If you aren't scared of your enemies, you gotta be scared of yourselves. It makes sense to me.
Not that the bad guys weren't frightening; they were. They just always seemed to bail out of a skirmish, even if they had the upper hand. We didn't know enough about them to understand. Still don't, do we? I mean, how does a group that has all the battlefield advantages make a unilateral decision to just... vanish? Everyone heard about the battle of the Argus, though, it was old news, even then. The same situation, though, it happened all the time, except on a much smaller scale.
So we kept ourselves in check with stories of the Lost Kids and the Big Black. And most everybody but me took the stories seriously. A little part of me wanted to know what happened to the Lost Kids.
"Where you going out to?" I asked him, genuinely curious.
"Friend's having a party, hopefully," he told me. "If her rents get out on time, anyways."
"Girl friend? With a space... or without?" I teased.
"Currently with a space," he smiled. I was relieved to see it. We could still talk a little bit, as long as we avoided the war.
But how much longer could we avoid talking about the war? How much secret life would happen between us before we had to talk about it? I believed that he was telling the truth about the party, but I also knew that he wasn't letting me in on his meetings with Andressa; meetings that were becoming more and more frequent.
His comm alerted him to something.
"Time to go," he said, grabbing his bag and keying the code that locked his console. I didn't stand up.
He left without saying goodbye.